4. Natural Resource Management and Conservation
Incorporating climate adaptation into natural resource management and conservation is key to decrease vulnerability and increase resilience of ecosystems and the services they provide, such as food, nutrient and water cycling, flood and erosion control, cultural values, and recreational opportunities.
- Incorporate Climate Change into Restoration Efforts
- Enhance Habitat Connectivity & Areas Under Protection
- Reduce Local Climate or Related Change
- Reduce Non-climate Stressors Likely to Interact with Climate Change
Incorporate Climate Change into Restoration Efforts
Restoration activities generally increase the resilience of ecosystems to different stressors. For example, coastal habitats such as tidal wetlands act as natural buffers to coastal flooding; restoring degraded habitats can help recover their ability to provide critical ecosystem services such as flood protection, water quality abatement, and recreational opportunities.
- The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority first developed a statewide coastal restoration and hurricane protection plan in 2007 to coordinate federal, state, and local efforts to restore habitats and develop structural storm protection measures.43 Terrebonne Parish, the second largest parish in Louisiana, scaled these state-level recommendations to community-level actions and priorities. The Comprehensive Plan for Coastal Restoration in Terrebonne Parish presents a systematic way to rate, prioritize, and implement restoration and protection projects aimed at enhancing coastal resilience. The Terrebonne Parish Office of Coastal Restoration and Preservation is using the comprehensive plan to help justify and obtain grants to implement priority projects. The Terrebonne Parish Adaptation Strategy, released in 2019, prioritizes coastal restoration and protection projects as the state is losing land faster than it can be restored.
Waihe‘e Refuge, a 277-acre plot of land located on the north shore of Maui, was purchased by the Maui Coastal Land Trust in 2004.44 The coastal refuge is home to wetlands, marine riparian habitat, and one of the largest remaining, intact sand dune systems in all of Hawai‘i. It is also acutely vulnerable to sea level rise and erosion. Managers elected to avoid the use of hardened shorelines and instead focus on habitat restoration efforts, including removing invasive plants and replanting with native species, to increase the site’s resilience to climate change. When the land trust first acquired the Waihe‘e Refuge, roughly 95% of the plants found on the site were considered to be invasive species. Native and endangered bird species have since returned to the site, including the ae‘o (Hawaiian stilt) and ‘alae ke‘oke‘o (Hawaiian coot).
Enhance Habitat Connectivity & Areas Under Protection
This strategy includes improving the management of existing protected areas and refugia, increasing the size and amount of protected areas (including multiple forms of each habitat type and a diversity of habitat types), and maintaining functional networks of connected terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Many coastal habitats are fragmented by human-caused modifications such as roads and other development. Maintaining the existence of protected habitats, climate refugia, and connections between these areas helps to ensure that species can move for the purposes of reproduction, food, and shelter, particularly as climate change drives shifts in species’ ranges (e.g., higher elevations, greater depths). This includes protecting space for upland or inland coastal habitat migration via conservation easements and other land acquisition measures, and identifying and protecting climate refugia or areas that are likely to maintain more stable climate conditions over time.
- The Tongass Conservation Strategy created a large network of old-growth forest within the coastal Tongass National Forest to prohibit timber harvest and road construction.45 The reserve network was created to protect species of concern and to maintain viable wildlife populations associated with old-growth forests. While climate change was not an explicit driver of the development of the reserve network, the protected lands may act as a source of resilience in the future. Large tracts of interconnected lands could allow species to migrate as the climate shifts. In 2020, the Trump Administration reopened the forest to clear-cut logging and eliminated roadless-rule protections, which was then quickly reversed in 2021 by the Biden Administration.
The State of Maryland pioneered a green infrastructure assessment mapping tool called GreenPrint to assess the relative ecological importance of land parcels and help managers prioritize land acquisition and restoration priorities.46 A new layer of information was added to indicate climate vulnerabilities and adaptation opportunities, such as areas likely to be inundated by 2050. Building off of GreenPrint, the Department of Natural Resources identified priority Wetland Adaptation Areas where wetlands will likely migrate inland as sea level rises. These tools help users review state conservation easements and acquisitions for site-level attributes that support climate change adaptation, such as storm surge abatement and restoration opportunities to increase coastal ecosystem health and/or carbon sequestration potential.
Reduce Local Climate or Related Change
Reducing local change reduces the vulnerability of natural systems. For example, reducing deforestation and increasing riparian cover can reduce the risk of localized flooding and erosion, while local sea level rise rates may be slowed by reducing water and oil/gas withdrawals or restoring natural sedimentary processes.
- The shorelines of Aramburu Island, a 17-acre wildlife preserve in Marin County, are slowly eroding and sea level rise and increasingly severe storms are expected to exacerbate the problem.47 Restoration project leads used sediment re-nourishment, invasive species removal, and native species planting to reduce erosion and increase sand and gravel habitat extent in the area.
- The Oro Loma Sanitary District constructed a horizontal levee storm surge barrier as a way to address concerns about flood control, water quality, and habitat quality in light of sea level rise and coastal flooding.48 Rather than a vertical wall, a horizontal levee uses natural vegetation planted on a graduated slope to buffer wave energy. As sea levels rise, the levee will enhance sediment accretion, filter pollutants from wastewater treatment effluent, and serve as upland transitional habitat. This project, completed in 2017, was developed as a demonstration site and is approximately 165 meters in length. In 2019, the East Bay Dischargers Authority received funds from the San Francisco Bay Water Quality Improvement Fund to develop, design, and permit the First Mile Horizontal Levee Project, which seeks to build off of the success of the Oro Loma horizontal levee concept.
Reduce Non-climate Stressors Likely to Interact with Climate Change
Marine and coastal environments and communities are already subjected to numerous non-climate stressors, which may make them more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. The cumulative effects of stressors, such as water withdrawals, pollution, and invasive species, reduce the overall resilience of natural habitats.
The Baldwin County, Alabama Grasses in Classes program worked with students to grow native plants for wetland and dune restoration projects.49 They removed the invasive common reed (Phragmites) and replanted black needle rush (Juncus romerianus) and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) at the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. In addition, the students helped to maintain and monitor native plant nurseries, and assisted scientists with monitoring at restoration sites when possible. Thousands of volunteer hours have been dedicated to grass and shoreline restoration projects at Bicentennial Park, Little Lagoon, and Boggy Point as well as sites around Weeks Bay, Gulf State Park, 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center, Camp Beckwith, Perdido Pass Beach, and the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge. This pilot project has been adapted to other programs in Florida and Maryland.
- The North Pacific Fishery Management Council adopted a precautionary approach to commercial fishing activities within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the State of Alaska, which includes the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.50 Observed northward shifts in the ranges of commercial species and uncertainty about ecosystem responses to climatic changes prompted the Council to establish limits to minimize bycatch, seasonal restrictions, and gear requirements (e.g., bottom trawling prohibition) to diminish potential negative effects on mammals, birds, and habitat. The Council has also created some protected areas to protect sensitive habitats (e.g., deep sea corals) and areas where scientific information is limited (e.g., Chukchi and Beaufort Seas).
- The San Francisco Estuary Invasive Spartina Project aims to limit or eliminate non-native cordgrasses from tidal and salt marshes through targeted outreach, mapping, and monitoring.51 With sea level rise, salt marshes and mudflats are expected to migrate inland, giving Spartina ample opportunity to colonize newly-created spaces. The eradication of Spartina from the San Francisco Estuary may prevent large-scale losses of native marshes and mudflats that can withstand the effects of sea level rise and coastal flooding. In 2016, biologists determined that nearly 97% of invasive Spartina had been eradicated compared to 2005 levels. A region-wide monitoring effort has been established to map the extent and rate of invasive Spartina spread and to monitor the effectiveness of the project’s efforts.